Business groups voice concerns over new anti-bullying laws

7 January 2014

Lucy Carter reported this story on Friday, December 27, 2013 08:00:00

Source from ABC AM

TONY EASTLEY: In just a few days a number of changes to the Fair Work Act come into force, including a significant anti-bullying amendment.

From January the 1st workers who believe they have been bullied can apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to have it stopped.

Industry groups have serious concerns about the new laws though, saying that bullying should be a human resources rather than an industrial issue.

Lucy Carter reports.

LUCY CARTER: The amendments to the Fair Work Act were passed by the Federal Parliament in June and include changes to superannuation and paid parental leave. But it's the new anti-bullying measures that have caused a stir.

Josh Bornstein, the head of employment law at Maurice Blackburn lawyers explains the new rules.

JOSH BORNSTEIN: For the first time there will be a law that will allow victims of workplace bullying to seek orders from the Fair Work Commission with the ultimate aim of insuring that the workplace bullying is brought to an end.

LUCY CARTER: The Fair Work Commission won't have the power to award compensation.

JOSH BORNSTEIN: This commission is given a pretty broad power to make orders either directed to a particular individual or directed to the employer, or both, but with the ultimate aim of ensuring that the workplace bullying is brought to an end.

PETER ANDERSON: The workplace bullying jurisdiction does give rise to a lot of complications from a business point of view.

LUCY CARTER: The CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Peter Anderson:

PETER ANDERSON: Low level bullying acts are very much human resource and personnel issues and taking these matters into the industrial relations tribunal, you give these complaints a completely different characteristic. And you also end up with the very serious matters being mixed in with the very low level issues and that doesn't do justice to the serious matters.

LUCY CARTER: Steve Smith, the director of workplace relations at the Australian Industry Group, shares those concerns.

STEVE SMITH: This is a very important issue and an issue that does need more resources. But those resources, you know, in our view would have been better devoted to the oc health and safety jurisdictions where bullying has always been dealt with.

LUCY CARTER: He also points out that the Fair Work Commission will only have 14 days to deal with a complaint.

STEVE SMITH: There's a very tight timeframe for the commission to begin dealing with the complaints once one is lodged. The timeframes all along are quite tight. 

And no-one has any idea at the moment of how many complaints are going to be lodged after the 1st of January. Given that both sides of politics are supporting these laws, it looks like they are here to stay.

LUCY CARTER: But Josh Bornstein from Maurice Blackburn lawyers says it will be good to see the commission dealing with bullying complaints quickly.

JOSH BORNSTEIN: One of the difficulties we've had in the area of workplace bullying for many years is that occupational health and safety authorities like WorkSafe have been very slow to react to workplace bullying and in my view quite ineffective. 

This new law is directed at a proactive approach to preserve health and employment and as a result requires the Fair Work Commission to at least commence the process of taking steps to address any claims that are made.

LUCY CARTER: The new laws come into effect on January 1st.

TONY EASTLEY: Lucy Carter.

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